Published on: September 13, 2012
by Gary Leblanc for The Tampa Tribune:
Not knowing the correct and pragmatic way to approach a person who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia has caused many family members and old friends to refrain from visiting the ones they love. This is tragic!
It is heartbreaking to watch as loved ones fade away right in front of our very eyes, but in my opinion, not seeing them at all is much worse. I’ve had so many different caregivers tell me that their sons or daughters won’t visit a parent because they just can’t handle seeing them the way they’ve become; because they’re not the same person they used to be.
I believe that once these neglected loved ones are gone, there will remain a certain ruefulness in the heart of the one left behind that may never go away. It would obviously be best to avoid such a sad state of affairs, so here are some great tips on how to meet and greet these folks.
First, learn that when you initially walk into a room where they are, enter at a normal pace. Don’t rush up on them.
Before you even say a word, make sure they have made visual contact with you. Never come up on them from behind or directly from their side. Greet them face to face with a smile.
Personal space can be a big issue. Give them plenty of breathing room and always stand a step to the right or left, leaving them an escape path. I’m not saying they’re going to bolt, but nobody likes to be closed in.
Introduce yourself by name and state your relationship. “Hi, I’m Holly Beth, your daughter.” You may hear a loud and snippy remark like, “You’re late!” or you may hear nothing at all. In either case, it’s OK. Whatever you do, don’t start off by asking, “Do you remember me?” In fact you’re better off making a statement like, “I remember when we … ” This way it’s not in the form of a question, as questions tend to raise their anxiety level right off the bat.
If they’re sitting down or much shorter than you, try lowering yourself to an equal level. Nobody takes well to someone towering over them. If they’re willing to shake your hand and they want to continue to hold it, by all means let them. However, if they don’t want to take your hand, respect that as well.
This takes a lot of practice to master, so if it doesn’t go as planned on the first try, learn from your mistakes and keep trying. You’ll get it.
Most of these tips I’ve just suggested are concerning those who are in the moderate to latter stages of their disease. If they’re in the earlier stages, things should be adjusted so they do not become offended.
Make sure that they are always treated with the respect they truly deserve.
Although it’s great to celebrate the big achievements, it’s also important to celebrate the small wins.
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